Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cubs Set to Break World Series Curse; Beat Dodgers, D'Backs, Sweep A's

Playoff Prediction
American League Divisional Series
No. 1 seed OAK over no. 3 seed CHW in 4 games.
No. 2 seed BOS over no. 4 seed LAA in 4 games.

National League Divisional Series
No. 1 seed ARI over no. 3 seed ATL in 5 games.
No. 2 seed CHC over no. 4 seed LAD in 4 games.

American League Championship Series
No. 1 seed OAK over no. 2 seed BOS in 6 games.

National League Championship Series
No. 2 seed CHC over no. 1 seed ARI in 6 games.

*** World Series ***
*** No. 2 seed CHC over no. 1 seed OAK in 4 games. ***

Here's our rationale for playoff predictions. Seeds are generated by projecting the final record and division placement of all teams in the majors. Alongside the win-loss prediction, each team carries a separate rating called the Playoff Rating. This number is an average of specific statistics that describe how teams fare in the postseason. The playoffs above show each match-up determined by seed (wins and losses) but the winner of each game is determined by playoff rating moderated by historical home field advantage. The number of games for each series is only a fun projection; we don't have nearly enough data to guess that.

Currently, Oakland is second in the AL West, but strong offensive/defensive showings place them above the Angels by September. The current pace gives Oakland 101 wins and Los Angeles 90 wins, but the Angels still have enough moxie to capture the AL wild card.

Boston won't move a whit out of first place and will end up with 96 wins, despite a push by Toronto into second place with 85 wins.

Minnesota owns the AL Central lead right now, thanks to the only above-.500 record in that division. They can't count on that for the entire season, though; the White Sox have enough talent to make significant gains on the Twins. Chicago ends up with 96 wins and the Twins fall to 3rd with 76 wins.

In the National League, Arizona takes the no. 1 seed with 104 wins, best in baseball, remaining in first place in the NL West despite the Dodgers moving close. Los Angeles pulls out 100 wins in the end and takes the wild card spot.

Chicago and St. Louis duel for the Central crown, but their scoring records show teams moving in different directions. The Cards have a great runs-scored v. -allowed ratio (6th-best in the MLB) but it's not enough to sustain their current pace. On the other hand, the Cubs have the best run ratio in baseball and won't show too many losing streaks like that of this past week. Chicago wins 103 games and St. Louis takes 98.

In the NL East, Atlanta rises precipitously from 3rd place into 1st place, due to their offensive power (2nd-best run ratio in baseball), running roughshod over the backs of current leaders Florida and Philadelphia, #17 and #9 in scoring/defending power respectively. Baseball Playoffs Now gives the Braves 100 wins on the season, well above the eventual second-place Phillies (90 wins) and Mets (80 wins).

Divisional Championships
It's really too bad that the Dodgers got seeded against the Cubs. Los Angeles has the 3rd-best playoff rating in major league baseball - but has to play Chicago, the owner of the best playoff rating. Besides, the Cubs will have the 100-years-fermented taste of playoffs in their mouths; let's give them the divisional round.

No. 1 seed Arizona beats Atlanta in 5 games; this is a much more even series than it appears at first glance. The Braves, though 5th best in quality wins, have only played the 28th-hardest schedule. This is somewhat damning evidence until you see that Arizona scored the most quality wins - but against the 29th-hardest schedule. Our Power Rankings show Atlanta in 5th place in the NL, based in part on analysis of previous wins and losses against an easy schedule. But the Playoff Ratings focus much more on how close the games were and on how well the Braves hung with good teams. This stat believes Atlanta is much better than advertised, and that the team will take Arizona all the way to 5 games.

Oakland takes down the White Sox for the exact same reason: two similar teams by record and schedule are separated by how they scored in critical games. Oakland did measurably better in this respect (2nd in baseball v. Chicago's still respectable 7th-best), and thus we award the series win to the A's.

Finally, the least-evenly-matched series pits the Red Sox against the Angels, which Boston takes handily. Los Angeles has won an impressive amount of games, but by unimpressive amounts against a much easier schedule than Boston. This is an easy prediction: Boston in 4 if the Angels get lucky.

League Championships
Baseball Playoffs Now projects two probably controversial winners in the League Championship Series: Oakland beats Boston and the Chicago Cubs overtake Arizona. These are both very closely-matched series and in the case of Oakland, a slight home field advantage is enough to swing stats in the A's favor.

Oakland: 8th in quality wins, 21st hardest schedule, 5th in win-loss analysis (infinite strength-of-schedule calculation), 2nd in score analysis (infinite runs-scored v. -allowed against schedule calculation)
Boston: 4th in quality wins, 15th hardest schedule, 1st in win-loss analysis, 3rd in score analysis

As you can see, Boston holds every trump card except one (Oakland stays closer in runs to better teams), and Oakland has home field advantage. This series is going at least 6 games, and may come down to a fan stealing a fly out or something similarly foolish. We give the edge to Oakland based on pure numbers, but Boston's playoff experience may tell otherwise.

As for the National League:

Chicago Cubs: 3rd in quality wins, 23rd hardest schedule, 6th in win-loss analysis, 1st in score analysis
Arizona: 1st in quality wins, 29th hardest schedule, 2nd in win-loss analysis, 6th in score analysis

Here's why Chicago wins: the statistical average of their quality wins against schedule ranks 3rd in baseball and Arizona ranks 4th, and the Cubs are the MLB's absolute best at scoring well against good teams (no matter if they win or lose) and Arizona is 6th. Despite Arizona's home field advantage, the Cubs advance to the World Series.

World Series
Determining a world champion is, interestingly enough, much easier than picking the league champions. Chicago is simply better than Oakland where it counts:

Oakland: 8th in quality wins, 21st hardest schedule, 5th in win-loss analysis, 2nd in score analysis, 3rd best run ratio
Chicago Cubs: 3rd in quality wins, 23rd hardest schedule, 6th in win-loss analysis, 1st in score analysis, best run ratio

On the surface, the A's and Cubs are similar enough - but when Chicago can smell their first World Series win in a long, long time and they have the talent to succeed, we'll happily give them a sweep.

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